Review by James Lindorf
From director, producer and co-writer, Stephanie Welch comes A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and The American Dream, a revealing look at American history and those who abuse science in service of the belief that some groups and individuals are inherently superior to others. A Dangerous Idea features interviews with social commentators such as Van Jones and Robert Reich, as well as prominent scientists in a frank and sometimes disturbing march through our history. Passion River Films will make A Dangerous Idea available beginning September 28th and is available October 2nd on VOD and DVD with a run time of 106 minutes.
In her feature film debut, filmmaker Stephanie Welch brings to light how false scientific claims have been used to fight back against gains made towards equality on every level. Bad science has been used to help subjugate women, different races, and the poor since our country was established in 1776. The fight has ebbed and flowed over time, Welch and other believe that the fight is on the horizon again as people in a position of power are poised to use what Welch refers to as the gene myth to unravel the American Dream.
Welch’s film starts off strong discussing the effects of eugenics practices on the population in the United States and Germany, though names like Darfur are dropped. The film is presented in a mostly chronological order starting from the treatment of Native Americans, African enslavement and progressing to the events of the last two years. However, some topics that Welch and her co-writer Andrew Kimbrell must feel especially motivated by make multiple appearances throughout the film.
There is so much information to unpack in this film I think it was a good choice to encroach on a 2-hour runtime. Where Welch fell short was in the pacing of the film in two key areas. First, was the amount of attention given to the dangers of lead paint and the damage it has caused and the resulting lawsuits. While it is important and sometimes infuriating, the story seems so small in scope when compared to something like the Tuskegee Experiment, which wasn’t even mentioned. The second pacing mistake is the greater offense of the two as it really bogs down the center portion of the film; this is when she turns her focus on the gene myth. Entirely too much time is spent explaining the science from Mendel to The Human Genome Project to CRISPR in a way that is both overly redundant and monotonous. She wants to beat you over the head about why the gene myth is wrong on a scientific level with too little focus on helping the viewer understand the concept.
It is evident that this film was initially completed in 2016 and rushed to be released this year in response to the reemergence of so many classic eugenic talking points. When Welch and others decided to expand on the film before its release, they should have added up to 15 minutes on current events and their connection to the past. As it is, we are given maybe five minutes on current topics, and any links that can be made are the responsibility of the viewer.
It’s obvious what Welch’s stance is by her choosing this topic, but Welch did a great job of removing herself from the production and letting the experts tell the tale. Watching A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and The American Dream may result in you crying or wanting to throw something, but it has a powerful message that everyone needs to hear and more importantly understand. With better pacing and more focus on current events, the film would have gone from good to the most important documentary in years.